Who Are You, Again? Oh Right, GRE Scores

Paging John Nash, paging John Nash...

This past week ETS finally got around to releasing the scores from the first three months of testing for the Revised GRE. For those of you who may remember, or may not, ETS released its new and improved version of the GRE on August 1st, 2011. A couple of us here at Bell Curves went in to take it to see just how “revised” the test was (naturally, we blogged about it, which you can read here and here). The objective was to find out anything about the test we could that was not in the press releases. We played with the algorithm in a few ways to give us better insight into the test scoring and other features. After a long grueling wait we finally got our scores back. Now we just have to figure out what they mean. As does just about everyone else…


So without further ado, here is what ETS is starting to send to all test takers:

Note: I was never going to be an Aerospace Engineer


Quantitative: 165  Percentile: 93

Verbal: 164 Percentile: 94

Analytical Writing: 3.5 Percentile: 29 (Hahahahaha apparently they like my humor less than GMAC does!)


By most accounts these scores are clearly pretty “good”. I got most of the available points and was pretty close to the top possible score of 170. But what gets a bit more confusing is trying to put these scores in contexts that we already know. Let’s take a closer look:

1) 130-170 – This is the new scoring range, with 1-point increments. I know, I know. The GRE has been 200-800 since forever. Everyone loved (or hated, but at least knew) 200-800. Why’d they change? Your guess is as good as mine. Speaking of increments…

2) 41 or 61  The old GRE scoring scale had 61 increments from 200 to 800. The new scale has 41 increments from 130 to 170. The last time I took the regular GRE I got a Q760 and V690. So on the old test I was 4 increments and 11 increments away from perfect scores, respectively. With the new one I’m 5 increments and 6 increments away, respectively. I’m pretty sure I’m no smarter or stupider than the last time I took it, but I wouldn’t have any way to know even if I wanted to. I tried figuring out the correlations between the number of increments for old and revised and it gave me a headache. Let’s just say you can forget about trying to compare your new scores to the old scores. And speaking of comparing…

3) Old Score Scale for the Revised Test – When I took my Revised GRE they didn’t have the new score scales yet, so they gave estimates based on the old GRE scale. On the old GRE scale the ranges I was given were Q750-800 and V670-770. That’s right, 50 and 100 points, respectively. You may also notice that the scores I got the last time I took the GRE were at the lower end of the ranges they gave me for the Revised GRE. What does this mean? I don’t know (sense a trend?). At least on official score reports they are providing an actual comparative score from the old scale (see below).


So what’s the point of all this? No, it’s not to confuse you. I’m already confused enough for everyone. The point here is to illustrate that we don’t have much context in which to frame our scores. As if to highlight just how little context there is, take a look at some of the tools ETS has provided to help you contextualize:

  • The Bulletin – when you check your scores online, ETS recommends this page for you if you need “information to help you interpret your GRE scores.” This link brings you to a long list of their student publications, headed by the 40-page Revised GRE Bulletin. Uh, thanks for the help guys.
  • Comparisons – On official score reports ETS will be providing your scores according to both the new and old formats. Click here to see a sample.
  • Oh yeah, The GMAT – GRE also provides a concordance chart between the new scores and the GMAT, which is, of course, scaled 200-800.

The beguiling question here is if we don’t know what the scores mean, how are admissions officers supposed to treat them? Maybe we should just use the percentiles. The percentiles are the only value that seems consistent across the board on just about all tests. Makes you wonder why the GRE doesn’t just do away with numbers altogether and just go with percentiles.

I suppose the bottom line is this: it’ll be a while before anyone really knows what these scores mean. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to go to grad school, you’re stuck with this. Our recommendation: pay attention to the percentiles until it’s clear what the scores mean and how they’re interpreted.

Last Words…

  • The Analytical Writing – Clearly the computer (or more likely a human reader) didn’t find my particular brand of rant illuminating and decided to give me a 3.5 thank-you-very-much. For more on those essays and others, see these previous posts (Exhibit A, Exhibit B). Thankfully, no one really pays all that much attention to the essays anyway.
  • Want $25? – If you’ve taken both the GMAT and Revised GRE, ETS wants to give you $25 for your scores for research they’re doing on concordance between the two tests. Context anyone…? To sign up, click here.
  • Want an Official GRE Score Report? – good luck. Those aren’t available just yet. You might want to check the “special score reporting schedule” to see when your scores can actually be sent to schools.


Good luck and good studying! If you need any help with your GRE prep, let us know and we’ll be glad to help!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-Victor/100002518624224 Martha Victor

    nice and helpful post about GRE Good Scores

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